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Believe it or not, dentistry has a colorful past! We scoured the history books for interesting highlights, and here’s what we found…

1. Tooth Worms – Say What?

Today, we of course know, tooth decay is mostly caused by plaque that sticks to the teeth and eats into enamel if not removed – but in many points in the historical record, humans have instead pointed the finger at the nefarious tooth worm.

They were referenced in Babylonian texts around 5,000 B.C., in Chinese texts around 1,500 B.C., in ancient Rome and during the Middle Ages, and in Mayan lore.

Such beliefs may be attributed to the actual fact that, when dissected, molars contain tube-like structures that may be interpreted as some form of worm. So there you have it.

2. “Open your mouth as say, how short do you want it?”


As early as the Bronze Age, the typical barber (you know, the person that cuts your hair) also acted as the friendly neighborhood dentist!

There were few alternatives – traditional medical doctors were not typically involved in anything but offering ineffective advice, and the rudiments of dentistry were not invented until Pierre Fauchard got it together in the 17th century.

If something was wrong with your tooth, the only effective treatment was to yank it out! That’s where the barber came in (don’t want to even think about it).

3. “The dentist is coming … the dentist is coming!”

When you think American Revolutionary War, you have to think of that great American hero, Paul Revere – but did you know that he had a day job? That’s right – Paul Revere was a dentist.

In fact, the revered Revolutionary War hero was a pioneer in dental forensics – able to ID his friend, Dr. Joseph Warren, by the dental bridge he had made for him.

4. The First Power Drills Were Powered by Feet

Among his other developments, John Greenwood, George Washington’s dentist, converted his mother’s spinning wheel into a foot-pedaled dentist’s drill. “Let the pains begin!”

5. “Man Escapes From Jail Using…!”

This doesn’t quite fit the mold of dental historical fact, but it’s a good one, so we included it…

In 1994, a convict at the South Central Regional Jail in South Charleston, West Virginia baffled everyone when he escaped by tossing a weight attached to a rope over the prison wall. What surprised everyone was what comprised the rope he left behind – DENTAL FLOSS!

That’s right folks, Robert Shepard somehow managed to get hold of 48 strands of mint-flavored dental floss, and braided rope “as thick as a telephone cord” to aid in his escape.  Whether the mint flavoring contributed to success of his efforts, we’ll never know.  Postscript: Shepard was captured two days later.

Stay tuned for more amazing dental facts. In the interim, if your appetite is whetted enough, watch this great documentary about the history of dentistry, from the BBC. Cheerio!





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